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North Fremantle History

Sunday Times 28 May 1933, page 18


An Outline of Its History—Some Historical Facts

The town of Fremantle had been established for a few decades before a settlement rose on the northern side of the river. The members of this small community comprised in the main Irish folk and Chelsea pensioners, who laid the foundation for the progressive industrial centre that North Fremantle is to-day. This settlement resembled a small village, and was concentrated in the locality of Swan-street. Beyond that was bush and sandhills. A wonderful transformation has been effected in little more than half a century.

Gone are the sandy wastes and the useless scrub and in their place a compact industrial town, well lit, with excellent roads and footpaths—and clean. Implanted in the breast of every North Fremantle born resident is pride of his nativity, and in his town, for which he has every reason. For from that apparent wasteland, that mere appendage of Fremantle, has sprung one of the finest industrial towns of the West.


North Fremantle remained a comparatively small township until the year 1892, when the hills at Rocky Bay were opened as a quarry to provide stone for the construction of the north and south moles for the Fremantle harbor, which is recognised as providing one of the safest harborages in the world. Many men were employed at quarrying the stone, and in a surprisingly short period the population of North Fremantle was increased by many hundreds. The scrub was cleared to make way for homes for the quarrymen and their families, homes which at first were very humble, constructed for the greater part of hessian.

The locality of the North Fremantle Oval, then known as "Brucetown," was a select residential area. With the commencement of the quarries another settlement was established in the vicinity of the present Church of England, and was referred to as "Tin Pot Hill." The famous "Canvas Town" grew up in the vicinity of the quarries at Rocky Bay. Incidentally, the first post office was conducted in conjunction with a small confectionery shop opposite Pearse's factory by a Mrs. McKay, referred to by the neighborhood as "grandma." It was many years later that the present post office was erected on a site which was previously the municipal pound.


The quarrymen were a hard working lot, brawny fellows, used to "roughing it" most of them, but the community was desirably law abiding. They had their differences of course, most of a minor nature, but they met on a common ground in opposing the disturbing element to the peace of the community, or the intruder who could not be judged on the code of honesty.

Doors were not locked or bolted in those days as unfortunately is so necessary nowadays, but it is recalled that for a period petty thieving was prevalent in the town. For several days efforts to apprehend the culprit or culprits were unsuccessful, but eventually the demeanor of a man near a house aroused suspicions These suspicions were confirmed when the man made a bolt for it. He headed for the river, with several persons hotly in pursuit. Either he was afraid of facing the consequences, or else he thought he could swim the river, for he plunged in near the Harvest-road Jetty, and was drowned.

Shortly after the quarries were opened a terrific explosion occurred through the igniting of the powder magazine, and the manager, a Mr. Irvine, received frightful injuires from which he died. The second in charge at the quarries was a Mr. Jim Toohey who is still '"above deck" and lives in Fremantle.


An amusing story is recounted of an argument between neighbors and the suggestion, perhaps conciliatory, of settling the dispute by a loved and respected sergeant of police, who died a few years ago. It appears that the goat of one of the parties—practically every resident had a goat to provide milk for the household—had wandered into a neighbor's yard during the night and fed off the laundry left on the clothes-line to dry. It was a wrathful neighbor that called on the sergeant the next morning to institute proceedings against the owner of the offending goat to make good the loss. To avoid a breach between erstwhile friendly neighbors the sergeant suggested that a pax might be reached. It would be tit for tat if that person's goat found its way next door when lingerie was drying on the line. The breach, we understand, was healed.


Prior to 1895, the settlement on the north side of the river was a part of the North Ward of the Fremantle Municipality, but for several years the settlers had been demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the treatment from the council. The chief grievance was the dearth of roads in this growing part of the municipality. The late Mr. D. K. Congdon, a former Mayor of Fremantle, who was now resident at North Fremantle, sponsored a petition, which was presented to the Fremantle Council and in that year separation was granted to North Fremantle by the Forrest Government. Mr. Congdon was elected as the first Mayor of North Fremantle, and held the office for three years. Nine councillors were elected by the whole district, and included the late Mr. James Pearse, who is referred to as the "father of North Fremantle," and Mr. Williams White, the only surviving member of that council. The first Town Clerk was a Mr. Harris, who did not hold the office very long, followed by Mr. W. E. Wray, now deceased, who was later a Mayor of Fremantle. The nine members represented the municipality as a whole, and it was not until several years later that the ward system was introduced.


For the first twelve months, the council meetings were held at Mason's Hall, which stood on a now vacant site in John-street, next to the Railway Hotel. The building, of galvanised iron, was the first public hall at North Fremantle, and was erected by a well known resident, the late Mr. Fred Mason, who was a jeweller at Fremantle. The hall was later destroyed by fire.


To carry on the essential functions of a council until the rates came in, an appeal was made to the Premier, Sir John Forrest, for assistance. The first Town Hall, which is now the North Fremantle fire station, was built at a cost of £700, and the official opening by Sir John Forrest was celebrated with a banquet. The first loan, £2000, raised for road construction, was subscribed by the general public to whom debentures were issued. The money was sufficient to construct Swan, John, Bruce, de Lisle, Jackson and Bayley streets and Thompson and Harvest roads, with the necessary curbings, with capstone quarried in the district. Number two loan, £4300, was raised to build the present Town Hall, opened in 1902, and for other works, at 5 per cent, and will not mature until 1939


The site for the North Fremantle Oval was acquired shortly after the erection of the first Town Hall. Cr. White ascertained that a fine property fronting the river foreshore, owned by an English gentleman, Sir Auriol Tanner, could be purchased at a reasonable cost and the council agreed that the site would be admirably suited for a municipal reserve. Once again the assistance of the Government was sought and obtained. At the conclusion of the opening ceremony of the first Town Hall, Sir John Forrest inspected the site, with the Mayor (Mr. Congdon) and a deal with the owner was the outcome. The council asked for one provision, namely the right at any time to lease the property as it thought for a period of 25 years. The property is held in fee simple by the town of North Fremantle.

The site was cleared and grassed, and a pavilion and fencing erected. Some years later the pavilion was burnt down, allegedly by an irresponsible person, and the present improved pavilion was erected.

Considerable revenue from the oval was lost through the disbandment of the senior football team of the district, and this, together with the excessive cost of water, resulted in the grounds being more or less neglected. However, two years ago, the present Town Clerk and engineer (Mr. E. J. McCormack) designed and supervised the construction of a water reticulation scheme, which was estimated to have resulted in a saving of £175 to the council during the first year of operation. The fact that an inexhaustible supply of fresh water is obtainable on the grounds at no great depth, obviates the necessity for economising on the water bill, to the great benefit of the oval. Furthermore, through the availability of sustenance labor many improvements have been made, so that the oval, ideally situated as it is, is one of the most attractive spots adjacent to the river.

The reference to senior football will recall the achievements of the "magpies," the district football team—so named because the colors were black and white—before the advent of league football. One of the organisers of the team, who was also captain, was Mr. J. Thomas, the present chairman of the Buckland Hill Road Board, then affectionately known to the team and its supporters as "Trilby." Other prominent members of that team, who are still about were George Munro, Dick Pearse Mick Kenny, "Chiller" Whakely, and the ever-green Dolph Heinrichs, although it was a few years later before Dolph joined the team.


It became apparent to the council some years after its inception, that the municipality had made such progress as to warrant the erection of a statelier and more commodious Town Hall than the existing frugal edifice. A loan of £4300 was raised, sufficient for a hall and other works, and on September 3, 1902, Mr. (now Sir) Walter James, K.C., M.L.A., the Premier of Western Australia, laid the foundation stone in the presence of the Mayor (Mr. Congdon) and councillors, and a large assembly of the townspeople. (It was suspected that the coins of the realm which were buried beneath the stone were removed overnight.)

Mr. George C. Clark, and Messrs. Cornish and Ford were respectively the architect and the contractors for the hall, the cost of which has been estimated at about £2000.


The building next to the hall, now occupied by the Town Clerk and his staff, was the gift of the Crown for a public library. The library was controlled by a committee, and received an annual subsidy of £25 from the council. A portion of the building is still used as a library, but following a reorganisation in 1929, the ground floor portion was taken for use as municipal offices, and it was decided to transfer the control of the library to the council. The library is still subsidised by the council, but as a member of the municipal staff acts as librarian without remuneration, the subscriptions as well as the council's grant are devoted to the purchase of books. With expenses reduced to a minimum, subscribers naturally benefit through the more frequent addition of new books to the library shelves.


At first the town was lit with kerosene lights which rendered good service until the extension of the electric lighting system from Fremantle. For a short period acetylene lights were used, but were apparently not considered an effective substitute for electricity. Residents will remember the late Paddy O'Byrne, born and bred at North Fremantle, who was for many years the town lamp lighter. It was Paddy's job to light his lamps at sundown and to extinguish them at midnight.

A conference of representatives of the Fremantle, East Fremantle, and North Fremantle Councils was called prior to the inception of the Fremantle Tramway and Electric Lighting Board, to consider the advisability of undertaking an electric lighting and tramway scheme as partners. The North Fremantle delegates were Cr. (later Hon.) James Price, and the late Cr. P. J. Hevron, who advised the council not to enter the scheme. About two years later the matter was revived, and a jigger tram service between the bridge and the present tram terminus was also proposed. In 1906 terms were reached, and the North Fremantle Council became a customer of the Fremantle Tramway and Electric Lighting Board, for the supply of current to the district. Mrs. Hevron, the wife of the Mayor (Mr. P. J. Hevron) manipulated a switch from the stage of the Town Hall, and flooded the hall, which was in darkness, and the district, with the new radiance.

It is noteworthy that only a few weeks ago the high tension system which passed through the town along the main street, Victoria-avenue, was diverted to Thompson-road, out of the way of heavy traffic.

The council negotiated for laying down its own tramway track, again preferring to be a customer of the board, but previously satisfactory arrangements had been made with the Government for cutting down the high level traffic bridge spanning the river, to its present level, to enable connection with the Fremantle tramway system.

The line was declared open on September 31, 1908, when the Mayoress (Mrs. R. Bracks) drove the first tram across the bridge.

Prior to the inception of the trams, omnibuses used to ply between the State School at North Fremantle and the Fremantle Town Hall. The originator of the horse vehicle transport service was a Mr. D. Garood, familiarly known as ''Old Skipper,", who commissioned an old fashioned cab. Later, the service was operated by up-to-date omnibuses by Messrs. George Auburn and R. Thomas, the father of the present chairman of the Buckland Hill Road Board. Before the constructing of the traffic bridge, a punt was used as a means of communication with Fremantle, and the remains of the capstan which drew the punt across the river, are still to be seen at the western end of the traffic bridge.


The circumstances which retarded the extension of North Fremantle beyond its present northern boundary have been the subject of considerable criticism by town authorities in the past, One hundred and fifty acres of land between the Monument Hill at Buckland Hill and the site of the State Implement Works, at Rocky Bay, was granted to the municipality by the Forrest Government. But according to our authority, the Defence Department of the Federal Government expelled any hopes of a greater North Fremantle by selecting Monument Hill for defence purposes. The State Government's gift to the council was immediately cancelled, and although the military authorities eventually decided upon Fort Forrest for the site of its fortification, the land reverted to the Crown.


The remarkable growth of the town is reflected in a comparison of the following figures during the period notable for great development in the year 1913, when Mr. W. J. Craig was Mayor, the capital value was £170,365, with the annual value of £21,182. For the current year the capital value has been computed at £755,853, whilst the annual value has increased to £35,944. The total revenue in 1913, including a Government subsidy of £350, which has since been discontinued, amounted to £7982. In 1932 the total revenue reached £26,625/8/6, approximately an increase of three and a half times as much over a period of nineteen years. The comparative rate struck were 3/ in the £1 in 1913, and 3/5 in the £1 In 1933. The council's loan indebtedness had reached £18.000 in 1913, but has since been reduced to £14,659.


The present Mayor of North Fremantle is Mr. Arthur Turton, J.P., who was elected unopposed last year in succession to Mr. Robert Bracks, J.P. Mr. Turton was elected to the council as a member for the East Ward thirteen years ago, and held the office of Town Treasurer continuously until his elevation to the mayoralty last year. The Town Clerk and Engineer is Mr. E. J. McCormack, J.P., who is a qualified municipal engineer, a qualified accountant, and a certificated Inspector of Health and for Foods. The personnel of the present council is Mr. A Turton (Mayor), Councillors H. Jackson, H. Welshman, D.C.M. L. K. Pearse, R. McKell, P. Shirley, B. J. Hallion, A. G. Pearse, J.P., S. T. Ruck, and M. Corkhill.


The following list shows the Mayors of the municipality:— 1895-1898.—D. K. Congdon. 1898-1901.—James Pearse. 1901-1903.—D. K. Congdon. 1903- 1904.—Ron G. Oldham. 1904- 1906.—Patrick J. Hevron. 1905- 1907.—John Keys. 1907- 1908.—Robert Bracks. 1908- 1910.—John Currie. 1910-1912.—E. H. Tomkinson. 1912-1915—W. J. Craig. 1915-1919.—H. H. Bolton. 1919-1924.—Robert Bracks. 1924-1931.—John McCabe. 1931-1932.—Robert Bracks. 1932.—Arthur Turton.

The record for continuous service with the council as Mayor was held by Mr. McCabe, whose death last year after a very brief illness, occasioned widespread regret in a community which esteemed him well. Mr. Bracks, who was three times Mayor, was associated with the council from 1901 until last year, with the exception of a break of two years. Of the original council only one member remains. Mr. William White, who has been retired from the council for several years. It would be a serious omission not to refer to the long and valued services of Mr. Andrew Kelly, erstwhile works foreman to the council. Mr. Kelly is now one of the town's oldest residents, and is retired from active association with the council.


When North Fremantle was declared a municipality in 1895, the population was estimated at about 2000 persons. The population is now in the vicinity of 5000, and although it might be contended that the increase in population has not been commensurate with the development of the district, it has to be remembered that the population was greatly increased back in the 90's through the employment of several hundreds of men at Rocky Bay quarrying stone for the harbor. With the completion of the harbor works the majority of the quarrymen sought avenues of employment in other parts of the State. The population has since steadily increased with the industrial development of the district.


An honor roll in the Town Hall, on which is engraved the names of 600 of North Fremantle's young men is evidence of the splendid loyalty of the community of the town during the Great War. More than 80 of them paid the supreme sacrifice at Gallipoli, Egypt, or on Flanders fields, and to perpetuate their memory a fine memorial, which is in the form of an Australian soldier with head bowed, was erected a few years ago at the corner of the Town Hall Reserve. The money for the memorial was raised by public subscription.


The development of the district of North Fremantle can be attributed to the foresight of those earlier residents who agreed to "cutting the painter" from the Fremantle Council, and to the encouragement given by each successive council since the inception of the municipality. Industry has become the life blood of North Fremantle, and the number of factories which have been opened up comparatively recently, we should say, is indicative of a very bright future in store for the district. With the march of progress it is not difficult to visualise North Fremantle as one of the first industrial centres of Australia in the years to come.

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Sunday Times, 28 May 1933, page 18

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